Sept 25, 2019–In one 12-hour period I was stung on the bum by a scorpion, zapped on the forearm by a red wasp, and stepped barefoot in a trail of fire ants. It was exhilarating, in a hurty sorta way. And it’s not like I was Indiana Jones-ing. The scorpion got me in bed, the wasp while getting the mail, and the ants while cooking in the kitchen.
That’s just part of living in Texas. I’ve gotten used to it now. But one of the biggest differences between Texas and every other state is the number of things that are pointy and sting-y.
Compare Iowa, for example. The arrival of spring meant you could finally shuck the overshoes and heavy coats and roll on the lawn. The grass was so soft it was like natural shag carpet. It invited spirited games of touch football, badminton, and croquet.
If you try to walk barefoot through the typical Texas yard you’ll leave a bloody trail. I’ve had to use pliers to pull out grass burrs from my scarred soles.
Pointy plants here are myriad and predatory. Besides grass burrs (which you can never eradicate) casual walkers are attacked by yucca, cat-claw, mesquite, cactus, and nettles. And that’s just the plant kingdom. When you move to fauna, Texas critters have developed an impressive arsenal to let you know you are encroaching on their territory.
Start with scorpions. Is there any creature better designed to inflict pain? Compact segmented crawlers with pincers to grasp you while that whiplike tail plunges the hooked barb into your shin and injects the poison subdermally? Add to that the fact they can slither through any crack and curl up and hide in any pile of laundry, and you have the perfect stealth weapon.
What could make it more lethal? How about having it fly? Say hello to the wasp family, and I don’t mean Anglo-Saxons.
I opened a truck box only to find it had become a condo for red wasps. They were not happy that I violated their homeowner’s covenant, and the whole clan came after me to express their displeasure.
A few years back I decided to keep bees. Yes, bees sting. But I had the bee suit, and the smoker to calm them, and I read a book once. I’ll feed and keep you, hive denizens, then I’ll harvest and enjoy your delicious honey.
Not Texas bees. They tend to fraternize with their Africanized cousins, breeding swarms of Killer Bees.
One day I opened up a compromised hive and was literally covered in bees, all trying to kill me. Even though I wore a head-to-toe bee suit, the avenging critters were squeezing in the tops of my boots and stinging through the fabric. I had to jump in my trusty red van and drive down the road, stopping at intervals to get out and brush off bees. After three miles I still carried a thousand angry hitchhikers. For creatures that only live six weeks, they have a persistent memory. Until that batch died off, they waited daily to greet me at my front door.
I decided store honey tastes just as good.
Moving up the food chain, you find the black widow and the brown recluse, and the rattlesnake. At least it has the decency to alert you before it kills you.
Longhorns advertise their pointiness in their name. Back in Iowa, our cattle are polled. In Texas, even the toads have horns.
Even inanimate objects become weapons. Our flint is so fine it is fashioned into an arsenal of points, arrows, and spears.
Grant Wood had it right. He painted Midwestern hills and trees that appear voluptuous. I believe he added the pitchfork to American Gothic just to try his hand at painting something that wasn’t smooth and round.
I’m not complaining. Agaritas taste sweeter when you lacerate your forearms harvesting the berries. There is something exhilarating about getting injected with a cocktail of insect venoms. You never feel alive until you’ve nearly been killed.
But I’ve come to a conclusion: you have to be sharp to survive in Texas.